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The 2012 Season In Inside Home Runs

I was watching the Mariners play the Angels Tuesday night, and unlike the majority of Mariners games, this was one I was glad I took the time to see. As my Mariners interests are concerned, I got to see Justin Smoak drill a couple dingers, continuing what’s been for him a rather torrid September. As my general baseball interests are concerned, I got to see the Mariners strike out 20 times, or I got to see Angels pitchers strike out Mariners hitters 20 times, tying the all-time nine-inning record. A team has recorded 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game only four times, ever. The Mariners have done it twice. From the hitting side, not from the good, dominant side.

There are three images, though, not two, that are sticking with me. There’s the image of a generic Mariners hitter striking out, there’s the image of Justin Smoak hitting a ball on a line, and there’s the image of Erick Aybar taking Erasmo Ramirez deep to right field. Aybar launched what I thought to be a pretty remarkable solo home run, and you can watch the video highlight right here. It’s not yet embeddable, because if this recent video clip were embeddable Major League Baseball would surely stand to lose millions of dollars.

What I couldn’t believe at the time was how Aybar turned on a pitch that looked so very inside. If you pause the highlight at just the right moment, it looks like the pitch is about to hit Aybar in the arm. Instead he turned the pitch into a home run that the ESPN Home Run Tracker tells me wasn’t a cheapy. Now, the off-center camera angle makes the pitch look further inside than it was, and in truth it was only inches off the inside corner. But it was a home run on an unusually inside pitch, and it got me wondering about 2012’s home runs on the most inside pitches.

So I took to the PITCHf/x data and created a top-5, which is actually a top-6 because numbers 5 and 6 are dead even. Technically it’s not really about how far inside a pitch is — it’s about how far inside a pitch is relative to where the hitter is positioned in the box. But I can measure only one of those things with PITCHf/x so, with no further delays, here are the most inside pitches to be hit for home runs in the 2012 season so far.

(5t) David Freese, April 25, vs. Chris Volstad

video highlight

1.45 feet from the middle of the plate

(5t) Ryan Zimmerman, May 19, vs. Jim Johnson

video highlight

1.45 feet from the middle of the plate

(4) Miguel Cabrera, August 17, vs. Tommy Hunter

video highlight

1.52 feet from the middle of the plate

(3) Ryan Zimmerman again, July 22, vs. Jair Jurrjens

video highlight

1.53 feet from the middle of the plate

(2) Delmon Young, May 18, vs. Charlie Morton

video highlight

1.59 feet from the middle of the plate

This was a fairly quality 1-and-1 pitch from Morton, a sinker that ran down and in off the plate against a righty. Delmon Young is a free swinger, and sure enough, he swung at the sinker even though it was a ball. It was a ball that Young drilled over the fence, and according to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, this was one of Young’s best home runs of the season. Somebody once told Delmon Young that he’s a good bad-ball hitter. That somebody was joking, but Young never forgot, and to this day he tries to stay true to the description. It does him far more harm than good, but home runs like this one keep him keeping on. “I’m a good bad-ball hitter,” Young thinks to himself every day. “I’m a good bad-ball hitter.”

(1) Miguel Cabrera again, April 26, vs. Hector Noesi

video highlight

1.73 feet from the middle of the plate

Let’s just zoom in on that little box in the corner, shall we?

Ahead in the count, Hector Noesi threw Miguel Cabrera a fastball that tailed in off the plate and on the hands. Cabrera went after it and Cabrera did damage to it. This one, however, might be worthy of an asterisk, based on the Home Run Tracker data. Cabrera’s homer had a distance of 382 feet, but the Tracker says in standard conditions it would’ve left zero ballparks. It wasn’t hit in standard conditions, because that afternoon in Detroit was incredibly windy. Cabrera put the ball in the air and let the wind do a lot of the work, and the homer had a standard distance of 322 feet. It gained an estimated 62 feet of distance from the wind. I don’t know if that’s accurate or if the Home Run Tracker calculations break down when the wind gets its windiest, but there was wind and Cabrera’s homer barely got out. Watch the route taken to the fence by left fielder Chone Figgins. Now consider that, at one time, there was left fielder Chone Figgins. It’s been a long season.

So those are the six most inside pitches hit for home runs so far this season. Ryan Zimmerman slugged a pair of them, and Miguel Cabrera slugged a pair of them. With a small fraction of the season remaining, we might yet see a more inside pitch get taken deep, but I’d bet against it. If you’re wondering, the most inside pitch taken deep by a lefty was 1.37 feet from the middle of the plate, hit by Pablo Sandoval off Tyler Chatwood on September 19. The pitch that Aybar hit out was 1.08 feet from the middle of the plate, putting it nowhere particularly close to the league leaders. Damned misleading camera angles. Always so damned misleading.